When it comes to ice cream, I generally feel it's hard to improve on a simple scoop from the carton. But this time my mind has turned to baked Alaska.
Baked Alaska once was the star dessert of cruise ship dining rooms and upscale restaurants. The classic recipe called for vanilla ice cream enrobed in sponge cake, lavishly frosted with meringue, then lightly browned in a high-heat oven. At the last moment, it was doused in alcohol and set on fire. The waiter would emerge from the kitchen and parade around the room holding the star of the evening aloft.
Baked Alaska's enduring appeal - and mystery - is easy to understand. How can you bake ice cream in an oven and not have it melt into a bubbly puddle? The answer? It's doubly insulated by the cake and the meringue. This might seem daunting, but it's not beyond the skills of a home cook.
My version results in mini baked Alaskas: one person, one Alaska. Accordingly, a small brownie stands in for a full cake. Any store-bought brownie (roughly 2 inches square) will do. You cut it in half horizontally (to create two thin halves), then sandwich in the frozen filling. Won't the brownie crumble when you cut it? Not if you freeze it for 30 minutes ahead of time.
The "ice cream" in this recipe is raspberry sorbet. It's a slimmer option than full-fat ice cream, a refreshing flavor that nods to the season, and a time-tested and deeply satisfying complement to the dark chocolate.
I wasn't sure that the brownie and the meringue would match as well, but it turns out that the meringue - basically a lighter-than-air mixture of beaten egg whites and sugar - somehow transforms our tiny stuffed ice cream sandwich into something quite substantial. Before you bake it, be sure to slather every part of this concoction with the meringue. That'll protect the ice cream during its short blast with heat.
Once you pull your baked Alaska out of the oven, top it with assorted berries. They add color and flavor and they're good for you, too.
SUMMER BAKED ALASKA
Start to finish: 2 hours (15 minutes active)
4 store-bought brownies, each 2-inches square and 1-inch thick
1 cup raspberry sorbet
3 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar or lemon juice
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Fresh assorted berries, to garnish
Wrap each brownie in plastic wrap and freeze for 30 minutes. After 15 minutes has passed, remove the sorbet from the freezer to soften.
Using a serrated knife, cut the brownies in half crosswise across the middle to form 2 thin brownie squares. Arrange the bottom of each brownie square on a work surface. Scoop 1/4 cup of the sorbet on top of each brownie bottom. Top the sorbet with the brownie top and press gently to form an ice cream sandwich. Wrap the ice cream sandwiches individually in plastic wrap and freeze until the sorbet is very hard, about 1 hour.
When the sandwiches are nearly hard, heat the oven to 450 F. Line a baking sheet with kitchen parchment, then mist it with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to whip the egg whites and a pinch of salt until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat until the whites hold soft peaks. Add the sugar gradually, beating, and continue beating until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks.
Remove the ice cream sandwiches from the freezer and place them 3 inches apart on the prepared sheet pan. Frost each with some of the meringue, making sure to cover the sandwich on all sides right down to the parchment. Bake the frosted sandwiches in the center of the oven for 4 minutes, or until lightly browned on top.
Using a metal spatula, transfer them quickly to 4 plates and garnish each with berries.